Close your eyes and think back to adolescence. Is it a sun-kissed day at the beach? Maybe catching fireflies on a lazy, summer night? As we grow into young adulthood, those fond memories might begin to be punctuated by nostalgic thoughts of love. However, memories for many teenagers are dark recollections of punches, verbal degradation or psychological control by partners who claim to love them.
In the environment that I grew up in, there was no talk of domestic violence or sexual assault. Not in school, church, the community center… nowhere. Yet, toxic masculinity ran rampant. In many situations, the girlfriend was to be controlled, amenable, available and obedient. Any variance of that role could result in a physical beating. The common mentality was “he only hits me because he loves me,” or “he wouldn’t care so much about my life if he didn’t love me, right?” We mistakenly interpreted passion for love and were blind to see that it was really dominance and intimidation. We felt obligated to protect our men. We were compelled to be validated by them. We believed that loyalty trumped self-love.
Statistics confirm our experiences. The National Resource Center on Domestic Violence (NRCDV) reports that young women between the ages of 18 – 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence, almost double the national average.
In our neighborhood, there was a game called, “Catch a Girl, Get a Girl.” It was an acceptable form of play, whether us girls wanted to be caught or not. During this secret socialization we became unknowingly groomed to be touched, groped, kissed, violated and to suffer in silence. We learned how not to articulate our voices, our desires or our values. Therefore, it’s no surprise that The National Sexual Violence Resource Center reveals that most female victims of completed rape (79.6%) experienced their first rape before the age of 25; 42.2% experienced their first completed rape before the age of 18 years.
Conversely, I remember a high school classmate of mine who courageously spoke up about her sexual assault. Nevertheless, I witnessed the alienation, disbelief, gossip and teasing that she endured; the main reasons why teenagers do not disclose according to The National Child Traumatic Stress Network.
Teen dating violence can have life-long devastating effects. According to the NRCDV, 69.5% of women who have been physically or sexually abused or stalked by a dating partner, first experienced abuse between the ages of 11-24.
Adolescent females should be given an extraordinary amount of education and reassurance that they are worthy, valuable, good enough and supported. They should be taught that they have a voice, and encouraged to confront any situation that threatens to disguise violence, coercion, or rape as love. When girls are strongly and consistently encouraged to avoid wearing blinders, they can spend their time loving themselves and sharing that love with others.
For information on teens and healthy relationships with intimate partners, visit One Love at https://www.joinonelove.org/
Written by Shawn Guy, program manager for the Conference on Crimes Against Women.